Inequalities in Fathers’ Access to Work Flexibility: Evidence from the UK

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 16:00
Oral Presentation
Rose COOK, UCL University College London, United Kingdom
Margaret O'BRIEN, University College London, United Kingdom
Flexible working time arrangements (FWTAs) enable employees to alter the schedule or location of work. FWTAs can help parents to manage conflicts between work and family life, and to share caring responsibilities more equally. In the UK, all employees have a legal right to request FWTAs, but there is growing concern that some parents, particularly fathers, may have limited access to FWTAs in practice. Sociological theory and research suggests that the management of family and working life is the outcome of a combination of constraints and enabling factors at both the individual, household, and structural levels (Hobson, 2011), and that time flexibility is both a gendered and a classed phenomenon (Gerstel and Clawson, 2014). Utilising this perspective, and focusing on fathers who are commonly overlooked in discussions of work flexibility, the paper analyses inequalities in fathers’ access to FWTAs, concentrating on variations by occupation and economic sector. This focus is important in the UK context, where austerity policies since the 2008 recession have led to concern about receding employee rights, particularly among the so-called ‘precariat’ class (Standing, 2016).

The paper uses cross-sectional data from Wave 6 of Understanding Society, the UK’s household longitudinal study, collected in 2015. This provides recent, nationally representative employee-reported data on availability and use of FWTAs. The analysis considers a subsample of employee fathers (N= 4500). The dependent variables are fathers’ reports of availability and use of FWTAs. The independent variables are fathers’ occupation, economic sector, as well as the gender composition of employees’ job and other important control variables such as partner’s economic status, children’s characteristics, and earnings.

The paper identifies socio-economic and sector barriers to fathers accessing FWTAs. With a focus on inequality between fathers, it highlights limitations in ‘work-life balance’ policies, which claim to provide equal access to FWTAs for all employees.